Why do humans have different races and skin colors? If we all came from “Mother Eve,” should we not all be the same color? In the past, some people suggested that people of other races were not really human, and they used that argument to justify everything from slavery to infanticide. What is the truth about race and skin color?
It is interesting scientifically that only humans have mostly naked skin and along with that, different colors of skin. Other animals have hair and mostly light-colored skin. As science has told us more about skin color and confirmed that we all came from common ancestors, we find clues about race and skin color and how we should treat one another.
The most fundamental reason for skin color differences is the fact that humans live at different latitudes. It is quite evident that human populations that have lived near the equator for many generations tend to have darker skin. As one moves from equatorial Africa toward the north, there is a constant change in skin color. By the time you get to northern Scandinavia, you have very light-skinned people with blond hair and blue eyes. People living near the equator have black skin, black eyes, and black hair.
It’s easy to understand why. Take two tin cans and paint one black and the other white. Fill them with boiling water and measure their temperature five minutes later. Dark colors radiate heat faster than light ones, so the darker can will be cooler than the white one. In equatorial Africa, the problems of heat release are very significant, because our brain cannot be allowed to overheat.
Another factor is ultraviolet radiation from the Sun, which can cause many changes in living tissue, including cancer. Human skin produces a substance known as melanin for protection. Melanin, God’s sunscreen, is a large organic molecule which both physically and chemically reduces the effects of UV radiation. Melanin absorbs UV rays causing them to lose energy. It also neutralizes harmful chemicals called free radicals that form in the skin after damage from UV radiation.
Dark skin absorbs a high percentage of UV light. It is essential, however, not to lose all the UV. Another thing that UV light does is to allow the body to produce vitamin D. Farther from the equator, the amount of UV is less, so dark-skinned people may not get enough UV light to make vitamin D. Lack of vitamin D causes rickets, so lighter skin is better at latitudes away from the equator.
As humans have migrated all over the globe, their ability to produce nutrients like vitamin D has been reduced in some groups. The Inuit people in Alaska don’t get enough vitamin D from the Sun, but they eat fish, which is very high in vitamin D. Their diet compensates for the low UV exposure. The presence of melanin in the skin, the complex biochemical system that produces vitamin D, and the ability of the body to protect itself against overheating and nutritional problems all speak well of the wisdom and design of our bodies.
Psalms 139:14 says, “I will praise you, Lord, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Instead of allowing race and skin color to divide and cause hostility between us, we should celebrate God’s wisdom and design. They show that we have a universal Creator who designed and equipped us marvelously to live on a planet that has varied conditions and environments.
— John N. Clayton © 2019